Active and passive voice

Level: beginner

Transitive verbs have both active and passive forms:

active   passive
The hunter killed the lion. > The lion was killed by the hunter.
Someone has cleaned the windows. > The windows have been cleaned.

Passive forms are made up of the verb be with a past participle:

  be past participle  
English is spoken all over the world.
The windows have been cleaned.  
Lunch was being served.  
The work will be finished soon.
They might have been invited to the party.

If we want to show the person or thing doing the action, we use by:

She was attacked by a dangerous dog.
The money was stolen by her husband.

Active and passive voice 1


Active and passive voice 2


Active and passive voice 3


Level: intermediate

The passive infinitive is made up of to be with a past participle:

The doors are going to be locked at ten o'clock.
You shouldn't have done that. You ought to be punished.

We sometimes use the verb get with a past participle to form the passive:

Be careful with that glass. It might get broken.
Peter got hurt in a crash.

We can use the indirect object as the subject of a passive verb:

active   passive
I gave him a book for his birthday. > He was given a book for his birthday.
Someone sent her a cheque for a thousand euros. >

She was sent a cheque for a thousand euros.

We can use phrasal verbs in the passive: 

active   passive
They called off the meeting. > The meeting was called off.
His grandmother looked after him. > He was looked after by his grandmother.
They will send him away to school. > He will be sent away to school.
Active and passive voice 4


Active and passive voice 5


Level: advanced

Some verbs which are very frequently used in the passive are followed by the to-infinitive:

be supposed to be expected to be asked to be told to
be scheduled to be allowed to be invited to be ordered to

John has been asked to make a speech at the meeting.
You are supposed to wear a uniform.
The meeting is scheduled to start at seven.

Active and passive voice 6


Active and passive voice 7


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Hello Ajmeer Safi

Our Passives page explains this in some detail. Since I can't summarise it any better than what's there, please have a look. You're welcome to ask us any questions you may have there.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mohammad Ghm,

We can think of a sentence in which we have three elements:

  1. the person or thing doing the action (the subjet)
  2. the action (the verb)
  3. the person or thing who is acted upon (the object)

For example:

The dog bit the boy.

Here, our elements are

  1. the dog
  2. bit
  3. the boy

This is active voice.


We can change the sentence so that we start with the boy - the person or thing acted upon:

The boy was bitten (by the dog).

Now we have passive voice. The object of the original sentence (the dog) is used as the subject of the verb, using [be + past participle (was bitten)]. We can include the person or thing doing the action or we can omit it if we prefer.



The LearnEnglish Team

I want to know whether the following is acceptable in voice For grandfather John painted a fence.
Dear sir, I have a doubt when I create this active sentence. John fed his dog. Which sentence is correct? His dog was fed by John or The dog was fed by John.

Hello chandana jayamaha,

Both options are possible grammatically, but both are inherently ambiguous without any further context. The second sentence is probably better as the first implies that there is a 'he' who is not John and is the owner of the dog.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir, In passive voice, we will use BY + AGENT (the 'doer') if we want to emphasize the doer, and we can omit it if the doer of the verb is not important or not known or if we do not want to say who the doer is. Somebody said to me that "by them" is not allowed to use in passive voice. I am really confused. Could you please explain to me whether using "by them" is correct or incorrect? Thank you so much and have a good day sir!

Hello 12nguyenhien

Your summary of agents in the passive is good. Perhaps there are some specific situations where it would not be correct, but in general, 'by them' works as an agent in a passive construction.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello dear team, Is the following sentence true: (Teachers, like all other employees, would like to be given the opportunity and space to work and recognition in matters and administration) Thanks a lot

Hello Hosseinpour

That is grammatically correct, though the end of the sentence isn't completely clear to me. I don't understand what 'recognition in matters and administration' means.

Hope this helps.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. What is the difference between the two verb forms ? I had a technician check our old television set. I had a technician checking our old television set. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam

In the first, you say that you arranged for the technician to come and she checked the TV. In the second one, you're speaking about a specific time in the past, and at the time, the technician was checking your TV.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Why do I refuse to be interviewed ? ( Change the voice) would you please help me with answer including explanation ) ?
Dear sir, I found this question in the TOEIC textbook and found it hard to choose the correct answer. I think it would be helpful for everyone so I posted here: "For some time, we allowed sales reps to pay for their car rentals up front with their personal cards or cash and then be reimbursed later. This is no longer the policy. As of June 15, all payments for rentals were supposed to have………..…….with the company card that was assigned to each of you." A. making be made C.makes D.been made I opted for D but the answer is B. Can you explain it for me? Thankyou so much. I'm looking forward to hearing from you soon ^^

Hello Quynh Nhu,

In my opinion option D is the best and correct answer. Option B does not strike me as a natural formulation. If have to (obligation) is required then we would not use suppose here:

...all payments [...] were supposed to have been made...


...all payments [...] had to be made...

Alternatively, you could use a present form as the situation is still current:

...all payments [...] have to be made...


Generally, we comment on the material on our own pages and not on material from other publications. If you need an explanation of any particular question then the book's publisher is the place to go, as they are responsible for their publications.



The LearnEnglish Team

Good day, To my understanding the answer should be B. At first I opted for D however B makes more sense. To explain, in the statement, the words are being directed towards the employees of a car rental company right? So the speaker of the statement said that prior to June 15th they were allowed to pay with either cash or personal cards then be reimbursed afterwards, however, from June 15th onwards, that should have been stopped, but the employees did not follow the new policy. In the article above it says the intermediate level of the passive voice uses the infinitive plus the past participle which seems to be used in this case. Recall that it's the action where the emphasis lies rather than the doer of the action. So I believe that for emphasis 'B' would be the answer rather than 'D' because, (to be made) more emphasizes the action, meanwhile, (been made) more adds emphasis to the doer(s) of the action. Option 'B' also implies that in future they will be expected to follow policy and there may be consequences if it isn't followed. Similar to the example in the intermediate level. To me it seems the speaker is more upset with the fact that the action was not done rather than who did not do the action. Thus, making the correct answer to be 'B'. Hence the reason this statement was being directed to them in the first place in order to emphasize that they did not do the right act or in other words breeching company policy. This is all of my opinion and interpretation.
Dear sir, please explain the answer. I opted for option B. But our teacher says it will be option D. Please explain the passive - It is impossible to do this. A. Doing this is impossible B. This is impossible to be done C. This must not be done D. This can’t be done

Hello Pratapsingh

The best person to ask this is your teacher! B is not correct in standard British English. The other options are, but the closest in meaning is probably D.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello mourin,

These are all imperative sentences and generally we use 'let... be...' to make passive forms of these sentences. I'll show you how to change one of the sentences, and if you want to change the others yourself we'll be happy to tell you if you did it correctly.

Do away with it >>> Let it be done away with.



The LearnEnglish Team

please tell me whether I'm correct or not: 1)Let the work be done 2)Let him be gone by telling him and THANKS for the help

Hello mourin

1 is grammatically correct, but 2 is quite strange because we don't normally use 'by' with a third-person imperative. I don't really understand what 2 means.

In any case, please note that these forms are quite unusual in everyday English nowadays.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Is it grammatically correct to say: (I know who is going to be our new head of department but I've been asked not to tell anyone.) instead of (I know who our new head of department is going to be but I've been asked not to tell anyone).

Hello parisaach

The passive is essentially formed of two parts: 1) the verb 'be' (used as an auxiliary verb) and 2) the past participle of the verb. It's only 1 that changes for tense or subject, so that means you could just list out all the forms of 'be' in the different tenses and then add 2 to the end to get a list.

For example, following the order of the tenses on the present tense page: it is written, it is being written, it has been written, it has been being written. The past tense page: it was written, it was being written, it had been written, it had been being written. Then there are also forms with 'will' and 'would': it will be written, it will be being written, it will have been written, it will have been being written, it would be written, it would be being written, it would have been written and it would have been being written.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, "The cleaner has cleaned the office" --> active voice. But is "the office has been cleaned" the correct passive, or "the office has been cleaned by the cleaner". Is there a rule regrading "the cleaner"??

Hello Cleo

In the passive sentence, you can include the agent ('the cleaner') by using the word 'by': 'The office has been cleaned by the cleaner'. There is nothing wrong with this, but often we use the passive voice because we consider the agent (in this case, the cleaner) irrelevant or something that we don't want to discuss. So in many cases, people would probably leave out the agent.

But the passive can be used for other reasons, too, and in these cases people might choose to include the agent.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

hi i have a few questions. they dont help you (how many ways are there to make this sentence passive?) you wont be helped you are not helped you dont get helped you are not getting helped if any of these is wrong i would like to know why exactly.

Hello miladghasemiofficial

Those are all correct, except for being misspelled (won't, don't). 'they don't help you' is in the present simple, so the closest version in the passive would also be in the present simple -- the second and third versions you give are in the present simple.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

hello. i understand that the passive form of "has the doctor given you your letter of discharge ?" become "have your letter of discharge been given to you ? but i have red these following sentence in a book and i'm lost now: "Have you been given your letter of discharge ?" is it possible to use passive voice like that ? thx.
Hello rom162, This is an example of a sentence with two objects - direct and indirect - and two passive forms are possible. Take a look at this example: > She gave the ball to John. We can use the direct object ('the ball') and make a passive sentence like this: > The ball was given to John (by her). Or we can use the indirect object ('John'): > John was given the ball (by her). ~ Your example works the same way: > Has the doctor given you your letter of discharge? > Has your letter of discharge been given to you (by the doctor)? > Have you been given your letter of discharge (by the doctor)? ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
n the examples you show none of them is with the present perfect continuous. So, is it incorrect to use the passive voice of the present perfect continuous? Or is it correct but not used? I can’t find this on any of the books that I have. I really would like to know. Thanks!
Hello again Aglae Please see my reply to your comment above. It can take us a day or two to reply and please note that our House Rules ( prohibit flooding. It is not incorrect, but we generally avoid it. We don't provide examples of language that we wouldn't recommend people use. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
In the examples you show none of them is with the present perfect continuous. So, is it incorrect to use the passive voice of the present perfect continuous? Or is it correct but not used? I can’t find this on any of the books that I have. I really would like to know. Thanks!
Hello Aglae Using a present perfect continuous in the passive voice is grammatically correct, but people often avoid it for reasons of style. This is because, for example, 'The book has been being written' is a little difficult to process (especially 'been being') and so sounds awkward. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
Hello. The lion was killed by the hunter. In this sentence: The lion: object. the hunter: subject. The act of killing has happened on the lion. Why do you say that the subject of a passive verb is 'The lion'?
Hello amirfd, In a passive sentence the grammatical subject is the thing which the action is done to. We can see this because the verb changes to agree with it: > The lion is killed by the hunter ['the lion' is singular so we have a singular verb ('is')] > The lions are killed by the hunter ['the lions' is plural so we have a plural verb ('are')] Verbs agree with their subjects, not their objects. Thus we can see that 'the lion' is the subject. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Is the passive of the sentence "He hopes that he can attain better grade", "It is hoped by him that he can attain better grade" correct? Or should it be as "It is hoped that better grade can be attained by him"? If the first (passive one) sentence is incorrect, I want to know the actual reason. I also want to know, if second one is correct, how is the second sentence correct as some of the information from the active one has lost e.g. It is not stated who is actually hoping, it could be he himself or could be his teacher or his parents or someone else. In response if it is said that it's ok to do so and the first one, in which second clause is not passive, is correct, furthermore I want to know if "by him" can be excluded. Please be kind.
Hello Shibasish, Both sentences are possible. You have two verb phrases in the sentence ('he hopes' and 'he can attain') and each can be passive. The 'by' phrase can be used with either or both of them: > It is hoped (by him) that a better grade can be attained (by him). ~ Whether the sentence represents good style is another question, of course. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Then, of course, I would very like to know which sentence will do the best that is which represents a good style. And why I was wondering about the question is because my textbook says that when I am asked to passive a sentence I have to do so to all of the clauses, of course if possible. So, I would very glad to learn about your opinion in this manner that is should I passive all the clauses or should I think of good style(which I want to be answered first)!!!